Changes, Challenges and Opportunities

Beth Crastnopol, Director of Professional Development Initiatives

B'Yadenu and the Opportunities it Presents

People together at a tableAfter a recent neck injury, I found that swimming—my long time passion—was now a source of frustration and even pain. I didn’t know what to do, so I turned to a  coach for help, and she pointed out that my incorrect stroke was exacerbating the problem. Believe it or not, that was the good news—at least now I had identified the cause of my pain. The bad news was that after 30 + years of swimming, I had now had to change! My old stroke, though comfortable and efficient enough to carry me for a one-mile swim, was no longer an option; but the whole idea of change seemed overwhelming, maybe even impossible. Fortunately, I had a coach who believed I could make the change and un-learn what had become ingrained practice in order to learn a new way of swimming.

The educators we work with through the B’Yadenu Project have engaged in a similar transformation. Each school’s teachers and administrators began this process of change by taking a long, hard look at their current practices and studying the impact they have on reaching diverse learners. Schools examined what was working and what strategies were less effective in addressing students’ needs. Over the course of a year, they have questioned, evaluated and set goals. They have articulated where their old, comfortable teaching practices are not reaching all of their students. In many cases, there has been disagreement, then much discussion and finally shared recognition about what each school needs to address.

This part of the process, although at times tedious and trying, has turned out to be a valuable learning experience for all who have participated; it has helped educators build consensus and understand where they need to improve. More importantly, by engaging in the goal setting process, each school has begun to embrace the concept at the heart of B’Yadenu: Lasting changes in teacher practice result only when professional development grows out of a thoughtful, goal-directed plan. We could not simply tell educators this fact; we needed to coach them through the B’Yadenu process so that they could recognize for themselves the value of setting goals and aligning their professional development activities to achieve them.

Much like what I discovered with my swimming stroke, school professionals have found that the un-learning and re-learning process is anything but a straight path to success. In swimming, each time I tried a new technique, I slowed down and needed lots of practice. I also benefited from working with a coach who kept me on track and made sure I was employing the correct form. Similarly in schools, teachers often leave workshops fired up about new techniques and strategies; but the concepts do not “stick” if school leadership does not encourage continued learning or create structures to facilitate it.

Through B’Yadenu, schools have come to understand that the ‘one-and-done’ workshop typically has minimal impact. However, when a workshop is followed by effective coaching and positive messaging from leadership, including teacher leaders, the learning takes off. B’Yadenu has given teachers an opportunity to practice new skills with feedback that has helped them change their practice. Schools have begun to see setbacks and frustrations as challenges to overcome, and students have begun to benefit from a school culture that now focuses intensely on addressing the needs of all learners.

With good encouragement, a willingness to accept slowing down first, effective instruction in technique, and lots of practice, I am learning to swim differently. I realize that if I want to sustain my progress, I need to keep working and have an occasional check-in with my coach. The same is true of our schools. To sustain the work they have done to become more inclusive, they will need to be vigilant and continue to practice, train and learn. Change is challenging; but with the right effort and focus, our schools and the students and families within them will build a new paradigm for educational success for all.

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